Sunday. Ordinary Time 2013, Week 15

ANTIPHON (click for full Psalm)
See, I have God for my help.
The Lord sustains my soul.
I will sacrifice to You with willing heart,
and praise Your name, O Lord, for it is good. (Psalm 54:6, 8).

Show favor, O Lord, to your servants
and mercifully increase the gifts of your grace,
that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity,
they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. (Psalm 15:1).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all Readings for this Sunday)
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are
anxious (μεριμνᾷς) and worried (θορυβάζῃ)
about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her (Luke 10:38-42).”

There will be some throat clearing as we hear the Gospel episode proclaimed this Sunday. There may even be a gaze or two by a family member to another; or a friend to another recalling a time when help was needed in the kitchen and none came – OR – if help came, it did so with an ‘attitude.’ Many who have taken on the herculean task of preparing a meal without any help from those who will sit around the table and inhale the goodies might be put-off by Jesus’ response to Martha. As my Mom said from time to time: ‘the food won’t cook itself and the dishes certainly won’t clean themselves. A little help, please…’ The issue, at least for now, is further muddied in view of the reading from Genesis that paints a different picture of service. Abraham and Sarah can’t seem to be excited enough about offering hospitality to the mysterious visitors who show up outside the tent.

(As a short aside, this episode from Genesis sparked the fifteenth-century Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev to write his famous Icon of the Most Holy Trinity. The original icon is displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. A good reflection on the Icon is provided by folks at Saint George Orthodox Cathedral.)

Some of the Fathers of the Church pick up this tension. For example, in his Conferences, Saint John Cassian reflects: “To cling always to God and to the things of God – this must be our major effort, this must be the road that the heart follows unswervingly. Any diversion, however impressive, must be regarded as secondary, low-grade and certainly dangerous. Martha and Mary provide a most beautiful scriptural paradigm of this outlook and of this mode of activity. In looking after the Lord and his disciples, Martha did a very holy service. Mary, however, was intent on the spiritual teaching of Jesus, and she stayed by his feet, which she kissed and anointed with the oil of her good faith. In saying “Mary chose the good portion,” He was saying nothing about Martha, and in no way was he giving the appearance of criticizing her. Still, by praising Mary he was saying that the other was a step below her. Again, by saying “it will not be taken away from her,” he was showing that Martha’s role could be taken away from her, since the service of the body can only last as long as the human being is there, whereas the zeal of Mary can never end (Conferences, 1.8).” Like Saint John Cassian, many of the Church Fathers note as praiseworthy Mary’s place and choice while acknowledging Martha’s good service.
What is noteworthy is that when Jesus acknowledges the primacy of Mary’s choice, He sees anxiety and worry in Martha’s life. μεριμνάω (merimnao) is the Greek word translated here at anxious. The word itself in Greek means does mean “to be anxious” as well as, interestingly, “to care for [another].” In other words, μεριμνάω (merimnao) is another one of those Greek verbs that demands a most careful balance: while ‘caring for another’ is often necessary and good, one crosses a line when caring becomes about “me” and not the other. Once that happens, care is no longer service as it morphs into a type of fear that threatens one’s self-defined worldview.
Jesus notes that Martha is not only anxious, she is worried, (θορυβάζῃ). θορυβέω (thorubeo), translated here as “worried,” means ‘trouble or disturbance … often caused by distraction.’ Ancient Greek usage of θορυβέω (thorubeo) notes that ‘great noise-making,’ ‘making an uproar’ and ‘clamoring’ is often associated with θορυβέω (thorubeo).
Throughout His ministry, Jesus certainly called His followers to service, a service that genuinely cares for the other. For the Christian, the ‘fine line’ in serving or caring for the needs of the other is to do so in the Name of Jesus Christ, not in the name of self. The work rendered is creative not because of power emanated from self, but because of Who planted the Gifts that enable the work to be done. As “the work of human hands” is necessary in this world, the efforts to care, to serve and to work models the Lord and Creator of all Whose singular intent in bringing Creation into existence is that humanity experience the loving communion of the Divine Persons.